As I sit here now, I see a new normal, as I go around Primark with my mother, I’m what I assume on my last week of Furlough,as the government have announced pubs are reopening; going outside it seems like a new way of life, it gives everyone a chance to start over, and I thought that I would be scared venturing out into the world, thinking it’s a free for all and the people won’t be socially distancing and it’ll be my worse nightmare, I expected that it would be like the stampede scene in Lion King; however, I was very surprised this new normal has the odd daft person but queuing in order and people becoming more patient due to the circumstance, is a breath of fresh air. My point being there is a plus side to this as people will have to be more careful and considerate and these things are put into place, so with it being more protected it makes me less anxious.
What I am writing here to talk to you about is the picture above, see this girl, she is smiling, she looks healthy and happy, maybe could do with more meat on her bones, but working 10 hours a day on her feet would explain her trim figure. Do you want to know a secret?! She appears happy, you see her in the street, you live with her and interact with her as your boss at work, I hear people say, she has got it together, she’s strong, she’s empathic and always smiling and upbeat; however what they don’t know is they couldn’t be more wrong. Very wrong in fact. This girl actually was going home at not and not eating, then she was finding it a challenge to even get up in the morning, she would just lie there looking up scared to open the window not wanting to see or speak to anyone, just to be left alone.
I wanted to be a manager or in a leadership role as a example, as an authority figure for people to look up and also to help people with whatever difficulties. Over the years I have had people come to me about their troubles, from period pains, boyfriend troubles, bereavement, anxiety you name it, I have dealt with it, and after suffering with my own difficulties, it doesn’t shock me, people can come to me with any problem and I won’t judge, I share my experiences of what I have learnt into practice. If I can be there for people knowing that a few kind words or advice can help atleast one person I will walk away with a sense of achievement. This is why I have decided to share this, so that people are aware that it’s not a burden, it’s not your fault and that it’s nothing to be scared or ashamed of . Mental Health is something that can be helped and get better.
You might think I found it easy, as an amateur actress with a performing arts degree, playing pretend comes easy to me. Due to my past experiences of suffering on/off with depression and also an eating disorder at the age of 16 until I was 20, I came across confident, everyone my whole life at school was like you have loads of friends, you host the best house parties, you win drama competitions, always the lead in shows, performing and passing dance exams, you have it all, well again underneath the surface they’dbe shocked! So I’ll start from the beginning.
Well, after having a wake up call months ago and the realisation of this lockdown having received the right help and support from my friends, colleagues and of course my loving family. I still have bad days but what makes it better, I found you talk to people and mental health isn’t as uncommon as you think. I have always felt I had to shield it, or felt I had to at previous places I had worked, apart from the theatre of course being surrounded by like minded people, there wasn’t a lot of understanding; whether it was them not being able to have that empathy or whether it was ignorance I don’t know, but I took away those past experiences of no one wants to be bored by my sadness, I always got told I was too sensitive or empathic or that you should go take some happy pills it will sort you out, you’ll be cured. Always hearing “you’re in good health”, “don’t worry about it”, “you look ok” well it’s easy for people to say that but no in your mind comments like that make us feel more like we are overreacting and that’s what everyone else thinks, this is why so many people suffer in silence, and why there is so many suicides. Fact is you can’t compare your journeys in life to other peoples and it’s not attention seeking having anxiety, depression or any other disorder.
The fact is talking about it makes it better, I never used to like to talk about it, because I always thought I had to be strong all the time, I thought my problems were irrelevant because I wasn’t in physical pain and my problems didn’t matter. Writing this blog has been therapeutic for me, as it’s a challenge to conquer my fears and beliefs. If one person reads this and feels a twinge of hope, then I’ll be one satisfied woman. All my life I had dark periods where due to bereavement of family members and friends, bad relationships throughout the years, I had a troubled teenage hood so to speak and that’s when the depression started.
Combatting And Battling
I’ll start from the beginning, as a teenager I was in about four different friendship groups at school, I was very friendly with everyone, I was preparing for my GCSEs and my mock results were on point (apart from maths, which I had to move from intermediate to foundation paper because I was unmotivated and terrible, but dyscalcula can do that to a person), that year I came 2nd place out of 4 finalists for a local drama competition, I had title role in an amateur pantomime, I got my belly button pierced, getting ready to go to college. So year 11 for me was great, I had been so used to being popular, and the top dog basically in performing arts extracurricular, however I thought college would be better, and I left school gaining my GCSEs and passed getting a C in maths by the edge of my teeth.
Jo Leigh, twice a week musical theatre, jazz and freestyle, not to mention one day a week ballet at Keelings school of dance, I continued this into college as extra curricular, being a performing arts student studying a BTEC being surrounded by thespian, bitchy dancers and a lot of egos, I had during the summer auditioned to for my dream job at the time which was to be a butlins redcoat, I made it through the dance and song auditions but was told to come back when I turned 18, as they said I need more life experience behind me, which at the time was a massive blow and the start of my low confidence, the more older I got the more rebellious I got, I felt at the time I couldn’t go sixth form even though I had the grades, didn’t feel I was smart enough, and didn’t feel I fitted in with these pretentious thespians who used to call me names like “chav” or “little virgin” as I wouldn’t flirt or sleep with the guys on my course. My esteem dropped so low, by second year I had a lot of family trauma and losing my grandparents put a massive strain on me, I then began skipping meals, and not eating due to the stress and grief. To eat anything was torture and I’d feel sick.
I then lost my puppy podge, which was due to maybe blossoming with age, I got more confidence and attention from lads as well by the time I turned 18. I thought at least I look good having lost this weight, but it became dangerous, very dangerous but I didn’t see it coming. So with that my meals and portions were decreasing, I gave up on my dance lessons, I was too tired physically and emotionally, I quit my local youth theatre, all I did was go home and sleep as I was having no energy due to starving myself. I got addicted to losing weight.
I was 19 and starting uni for a performing arts degree and you would think it would be the most amazing time of my life, couldn’t be anymore wrong, I made the mistake of getting involved with a boy much older than me, he was 25 and I was 19, turns out he was cheating on me, but I forgave him time and time again and thought I was the luckiest girl alive at the time and I couldn’t do better my self esteem was so low I hated myself. I made friends with a great group of girls from the dance and cheerleading societies I joined and they’d invite me out, but I was scared of going out dressing up, I began avoiding social situations so I didn’t have to eat or drink alcohol. Point is the weight loss I thought I was in control, I had power. I remember I went nearly 2 days not eating and I felt hungry, my douche bag boyfriend at that time had ‘red buttoned’me and I felt physically sick at the site of myself, I remember eating a whole tub of pringles and using a toothbrush for what seemed like hours I stuck it down my throat forcing puke to come out.
The habits of exercising every day and not eating then binging the day after become an addiction, I then plummeted to 5 stone.
My family members become very concerned and could see right through, even though most of the time I was dodging them and wearing baggy clothes to hide my extensive weight loss. It was a very upsetting time of my life, I eventually binned my older cheating and emotionally abusive boyfriend and won my battle against the eating disorder, I was monitored by the hospital and a psychologist, I had to weighed each week to check my progress, I had to really up my calorie intake in stages gradually, I had gone from eating only a nurtigain bar with a black coffee as a daily diet to eating three meals a day with snacks, which I found extremely physically and mentally challenging, but I eventually realised I cannot keep trying to kill myself for my family’s sake, the birth of my young niece put everything into perspective and gave me a wake up call, I want to set an example for this little girl and be an auntie she can look up to; so with that, my priorities change, food was no longer a constant obsession on my mind and gradually with help of a doctor, my family and nutritionist I reached my goal frame of 7 and a half stone.
Post Traumatic Stress
After witnessing my ex boyfriend that tried to slit his wrists, you can imagine how awful that was witnessing that, I blamed myself for it, feeling responsible that even though he had issues I felt it was my fault and I drove him to that, when in fact, he survived however, I was only a young teen at the time, I remember I unintentionally lost weight again due to the stress it had caused me, I weren’t sleeping at night and was constantly on edge that I was going to get a phone call and the worse news that he was going to do it again.
For years even though I was gradually combatting my problems with food and my obsession with calories, even when I was starting to get well again, and now that I wasn’t near death with it, I still had the fears of eating in front of people, I would get stupid things in my head that I people would be judging me, either thinking, ‘she eats like a pig’ or ‘she is only eating to prove a point’ when I reality no one really gives 2 hoots, but it just goes to show how mental illness can drive you into overthinking and it’s a real killer and so exhausting let me tell you, the amount of times I have wasted creating the worse what if scenarios in my head is countless, as human beings we are all prone to that at the best of times, I still have moments when I do, I would be lying if I didn’t.
So we live in a strange time, where everything is hanging in the balance of the unknown, I decided to turn my management skills into practise, as I would say, I have never been much of a fan of office work, HR and people management and customer service, has always been my strength throughout my leadership career. Being an Assistant Manager, I use that side to help my co managers. I have always been that manager that throughout the years has helped staff dealing with all sorts of problems, be it period pains, boyfriend trouble, bereavement, you name it, my only problem was, I thought I couldn’t show my struggles, managing other people’s as I thought it was showing weakness, I admired people coming to me being open about their struggles, as I have always been one for a problem shared, is a problem halved; but as I have said recently, I am admittedly rubbish for taking my own advice. I am good at pointing out the logistics and reality to others and being rational, but I am very much not always good to myself, I sometimes have bad days where I will overthink and overthink a situation. I’d be lying if I says I had anxieties of my ill and disabled father catching anything; fear of financial worries on furlough and my partner being in/out of work; Or thinking too much about the wrongs of the world and the planet, but also the fear of unknown of the new procedures of going back to work in this ‘new normal.’
I did however use my HR experience and skills and put them to good use and for my colleagues I offered a mental health support service for staff to keep in contact about the recent situation, and I have found it a therapeutic outlet, because you talk to people and you realise you’re not alone, other people are on the same way as you, with different stresses/ mental health struggles.
Last year, my relapse of a dark episode started with taking on a General Manager role after being made redundant as being a deputy manager previously; this role was a dream for me, I had in the past always come close to such an opportunity, but never got there, it was either too young, too inexperienced to be a top manager. It took a lot of determination and hard work, 2 maths tests, 2 trials, a HR knowledge interview and a sales pitching orientated one; I know a lot ha! I was close to giving up, believe me, but I was shocked when I received amazing feedback ( especially 9/10 in a maths test haha!) I get to manage my own team, do my own rota, learn more skills, especially latte art! However, being more profit focussed than customer focussed as a company I found, I would have left earlier, if I didn’t have such a supportive team, my operations manager got loads of good feedback off me from staff and customers, my net profit and wages budget was under percentage, gross profit targets were hit and miss, due to staff training, new products, till launches. I worked 6 days a week, then trained as baker for my own store, I was getting pressure from head office, the better my figures looked, the less appreciated I was and my targets for sales rose higher, so it was never ending. Everyday I would come up with new ideas and incentivise my staff and I’d get slammed, being told by operations manager, ‘that’s not how I would do it,’ never a well done, I was working backside off months and months, no holiday, no spare time, taking work home with me, as I was saving wages sending staff home and then running out of time, I was on a loser, it made my relationship suffer, I wasn’t sleeping properly, I’d be up until the early hours, writing up appraisals, responding to emails and drawing up rotas, I was manager, I was baker, I was cleaner, I was HR, doing all this extra work to not getting any thanks just weren’t my bag. Going into town everyday and almost getting mugged once or twice coming home from work, I thought, I need a change of scenery. I braved it out, and decided to turn a whole new leaf over and start a new life, working in my old comfort zone as an Assistant Manager of a pub again.
I was loving my new countryside life style, but with that became a stress of family issues, mixed with rehearsing for a show, moving flat twice and trying to fit into a new team, I felt so lonely, there were times when I thought, I would give anything to be back in my old life, where I weren’t the new person, why can’t things be simple, so much was going on in my personal life; as well as trying to pick a new job up; as well as moving house a few times, my anxiety was getting worse and worse. I didn’t feel like the same person anymore and I was suffering physically, I barely ate, I got anaemic, I kept having dizzy spells and just felt lost, lost like no one understood, like there was no friends or family around me that I could come home and open up to. I was the new manager, at work, trying to make my managers life easier, I went above and beyond stopping behind doing extra, thinking I had to try too hard in order to compensate, with that my concentration left; I was crushed inside trying to appear happy on the surface.
A week before I moved in with my fiancé into my new flat, I came down with cold and a throat infection along with major stomach cramps and a water infection, all leading up to the week before I moved. The day we moved in we had no electric, no hot water, nothing, (as well as a non flushing toilet), I was on the go and not sleeping, suffering from hunger and insomnia, it all lead up, to the point where I (undramatically) collapsed with exhaustion. I felt so lonely, I felt like an outsider looking in. I remember I hated going out and socialising, my health physically and mentally was deteriorating, my concentration was going which was affecting my confidence and work performance, I just everyday got to a point where I was scared of leaving the flat, I just wanted to feel safe and that no one was on my side; I was paranoid, every time I left the house I would want to run back again.
I had a major wake up call, when emotionally I was struggling, I couldn’t even get up in the morning, I felt there was no one to turn to, I just wanted to hide under the covers and not come back out again. I remember it well, it was February, it was cold and it was my day off work, I had hit rock bottom, I was scared, fear and panic took over the better of me and I decided from then on, everything is my fault; everyone would be better off without me, so I went out with my other half and saw an oncoming car on the high street and closed my eyes just wanted this to be over to stop feeling like this, it happened so fast I remember, Jack pulling me away. I was shaking, I just wanted a cry for help. My mom had enough trouble and a lot going on, I couldn’t speak to her about it. I was in shock, trembling and filled with regret at what I had just tried to do. How could I have been so selfish? Why would I do this to myself? What had I become? I can’t do this to my fiancé, my friends and my family, I had to do something, something just clicked, I need help!
Things get better
After a GP appointment and counselling, and having a referral from the crisis team, I was on medication, I had periods of falling asleep for long amounts of time, I felt numb, I couldn’t cry, I never thought I would feel anything ever again. I let this problem fester, and fester for years, all I wanted was someone to talk to, to feel safe. I made contact with my employers and spoke to them, I thought the worse, I thought due to past experience and fear of being penalised I thought the worse, I thought I would sound crazy or stupid or weak, but turns out they weren’t phased, they were helpful, attentive and gave me such warmth and support, I felt relief; they made it so easy for me to open up, it helped.
I haven’t written this for sympathy, but to let people know that with the right help things do get better, these issues and finding the help has made me into a stronger person, and if I can help just one person feel better and for them to realise, things do get better, I’ll be happy and I’ll know I’ve done my job right. I let this bottle up and fester for a long time to a point where I was desperate, that one particular day did hit home. I still have bad days, but I know the techniques to take my mind off it; I feel now I can be a stronger person out of all this now, and that’s why I have coped easier than I thought during this lock down. Mental health and a break down is not something to be ashamed of, and I want to help people in the best way I can, as I know mental illness is a tough battle, addressing my problems and seeking help was like a weight had been lifted! Guys just remember you are not alone!
If anyone would like comment on this page, you’re more than welcome. I’ll be writing another blog tomorrow about ways of going back into the world after lockdown and things that have helped me.
Many thanks for reading,